How to recognize that my dog is in pain?
Dogs feel pain the same way we do, but they don’t always show it in the same way. They instinctively try to hide their pain and are notoriously good at it! It is up to us to recognize the subtle signs and to get them the help they need. Rest assured, with a good understanding of your dog’s personality and a keen eye for certain behaviors, you'll be able to notice some of the indicators of pain and act on them appropriately.
The most common ways dogs display discomfort is through physical symptoms, behavioral changes and/or mobility issues. Remember, these changes are subtle, so stay vigilant and never be afraid to ask your veterinarian about anything that might signal that your dog is in pain.
Do you notice that your dog doesn't want to or finds it difficult to move around or climb the stairs? Are they jumping up/climbing less than usual? It could be an indication that they are in pain. Limping, odd gait, or moving stiffly could be obvious signs for an underlying injury, joint issues, or inflammation.
2. Shaking or trembling
This could be an indication that your dog is experiencing discomfort or in pain (and might not be due to the fact that they're cold).
3. Change in posture
If your dog has an arched back it could be due to back pain or abdominal pain (whether it be muscle, bone or organ related). Hunched or stiff posture could also be due to back pain or other issues.
4. Excessive licking/scratching/chewing
When dogs are hurt and irritated, they instinctively try to care and clean the agitated area. It can be due to external issues such as cuts (which you might be able to notice), allergies, or excessive itchiness, and sometimes even internal issues (even arthritis can cause excessive licking of joints especially).
5. Increase in breathing rate when dog is resting
If your dog is heavily panting at rest or has altered breathing it could be a cause of concern.
Heavy panting/breathing is most consistent with pain or discomfort. Labored breathing (more abdominal effort, neck sticking or extending out) or abnormal breathing (can't get full breath in), might indicate a cardiac (heart) or lungs issue.
6. Aggressive & Anti-social behavior
Your dog might stop playing with their toy, not come to greet you, hide under the bed, or look to be anti-social. If you see a change in their behavior this could indicate that they’re in pain.
7. Anxiety, Agitation, or Restlessness Behavior
Restless behavior and agitation are signs for pain in dogs. If your dog is not able to find a comfortable position or pacing back and forth, there could be an underlying issue.
8. Decreased appetite
When dogs are in pain they often tend to drink or eat less. Difficulty eating, especially hard food, could indicate an oral or dental issue.
9. Crying out or being vocal
Dogs that are under pain might be more vocal. They could be crying out, whimpering, wining, growling, or howling. This is the way your dog is trying to communicate that something is wrong.
How to help a dog that is in pain:
- Limit movement and physical activity (or stop activity completely if discomfort is worsened after such activity). Soft, padded bedding and a quiet, comfortable environment can also help. Bringing food/water closer and elevated to ease ingestion.
- Keep a record of the signs you are seeing. Pictures/videos of when your pet is in pain can also help your veterinarian determine the cause and proper treatment plan.
- Don’t try to treat your dog’s pain yourself. Schedule a veterinary exam to discuss any of these behavioral or physical changes.
- It is also important not to give them over the counter pain medication without veterinary approval, as it could be harmful. Human medication and those prescribed for other dogs can be extremely dangerous.
Your dog depends on you to be their voice to make sure they get what they need. Together with your veterinarian, we can make sure they are staying as healthy and happy as possible!